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Come pick some fruits off the idiom tree

Since I began studying a language as part of my degree, I’ve discovered that learning bizarre phrases is easily the most fun way to expand my vocab. Proverbs, sayings, idioms… they’re all part of the magical language cocktail, and you’d be a fool not to have a taste now and then.

Here are a few to whet your whistle:

J’ai d’autres chats à fouetter (French)

This might just be my favourite proverb, so buckle up. The English equivalent is “I have bigger fish to fry”. However, the French version is a bit more ooh la la. The direct translation is ‘I have other cats to whip’. Definitely a unique way of communicating your busy schedule… And now you know what to expect in French S&M clubs.

Occupe-toi de tes oignons (French)

The literal translation is ‘look after your own onions’. Under the semantic magnifying glass, it translates to “it’s none of your business”. This one really cements that French stereotype with the hanging garlic/onions. All the more reason to say it whenever you have the chance!

Ru xiu wei gan (Mandarin Chinese)

This Mandarin phrase translates roughly as “the smell of mother’s milk is still on you”. In other words, you are young and inexperienced. I’m sure you’ll agree it’s a nice metaphor. Although maybe these days it’s important to stress that its actually the smell of organic almond milk…

Eau de lactose.

Es geht um die Wurst (German)

E = mc2.

2+2 = 4.

Germany = sausages.

This proverb means ‘now here comes the sausage’. In other words, let’s get down to business (to defeat the Huns). This humorous idiom is very in keeping with the German culture. If you’re running late with hand-ins and have to put in some long sessions, this one is a good one to remember.

Proverb wars

Proverbs can be very useful at times. It may get you out of a deep psychological rut or, even better, help you decide what time to set your alarm.  However, I’ve come to realise some sayings have opposing counterparts, which makes it a little harder to centre your entire philosophy on life around them:

Many hands make light work… but too many cooks spoil the broth.

Three is the magic number… but two’s company and three’s a crowd.

The early bird catches the worm… but the second mouse gets the cheese. (Also, what happened with the early worm?)

The first mouse should have set a later alarm.

D.I.Y. proverb

Why not make up a proverb yourself!? It’s easier than you’d think – watch:

‘The honey will drip no matter how many times you spin the spoon’.

We all know the art of spinning honey around a spoon so that it won’t drip, but inevitably there’s always a drop or two. Some things in life are not controllable no matter how hard you try and so you shouldn’t worry about them.

Got any impressive idioms of your own? Let me know in the comments!


  • Sam McFarland

    wish i’d read this sooner x

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